Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jun 13, 2010 at 10:00


Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

    --Florence Reece, 1931*

There are sides in history--although the powers that be will always deny it.  And if they cannot deny it, they can at least minimize it, trivialize it, dissolve it into a mass of muddled details... or so they seem to think.  We've seen this once again this week.


Following Bill Halter's narrow loss to  Blanche Lincoln in the run-off Tuesday, Glenn Greenwald wrote a scathing analysis, the bare bones of which ran roughly thus:

The run-off between Democratic Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger Bill Halter, which culminated on Tuesday night in Lincoln's narrow victory, brightly illuminates what the Democratic Party establishment is....  Obama loyalists constantly point to the Blanche Lincolns of the world to justify why the Party scorns the values of their voters:  Obama can't do anything about these bad Democratic Senators; it's not his fault if he doesn't have the votes, they insist.

Lincoln's 12-year record in the Senate is so awful that she has severely alienated virtually every important Democratic constituency group -- other than the large corporate interests that fund and control the Party....

So what did the Democratic Party establishment do when a Senator who allegedly impedes their agenda faced a primary challenger who would be more supportive of that agenda?  They engaged in full-scale efforts to support Blanche Lincoln....

Ordinarily, when Party leaders support horrible incumbents in primaries, they use the "electability" excuse....  That excuse is clearly unavailable here.  As Public Policy Polling explained yesterday, Lincoln has virtually no chance of winning in November against GOP challenger John Boozman....

What happened in this race also gives the lie to the insufferable excuse we've been hearing for the last 18 months from countless Obama defenders:  namely, if the Senate doesn't have 60 votes to pass good legislation, it's not Obama's fault because he has no leverage over these conservative Senators.  It was always obvious what an absurd joke that claim was; the very idea of The Impotent, Helpless President, presiding over a vast government and party apparatus, was laughable.  But now, in light of Arkansas, nobody should ever be willing to utter that again with a straight face.  Back when Lincoln was threatening to filibuster health care if it included a public option, the White House could obviously have said to her: if you don't support a public option, not only will we not support your re-election bid, but we'll support a primary challenger against you.  Obama's support for Lincoln did not merely help; it was arguably decisive....

In response, Tapped sniffed:

Remainders: Glenn Greenwald does not have a good grasp on how the American presidency works;

linking to a post by polysci professor Jonathan Bernstein, "The Presidency Is Weak. Really.", although not to Greenwald's original post.  Bernstein in turn accused Greenwald of "ignorant nonsense", quoting from Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents to the effect that:

Paul Rosenberg :: Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
In form all Presidents are leaders nowadays.  In fact this guarantees no more than that they will be clerks. [Emphasis added.] Everybody now expects the man inside the White House to do something about everything...But such acceptance does not signify that all the rest of government is at his feet.  It merely signifies that other men have found it practically impossible to do their jobs without assurance of initiatives from him.  Service for themselves, not power for the President, has brought them to accept his leadership in form...A President, these days, is an invaluable clerk.  His services are in demand all over Washington.  His influence, however, is a very different matter.

In turn Ezra Klein picked up on this "classic quote" and added:

This is, it should be said, less true on foreign policy than on domestic policy. But on domestic policy, it's quite true. If you could convince Barack Obama that the economy desperately needed $400 billion more in immediate stimulus, there's just not that much he could do about it. He doesn't have the votes, and like all presidents before him, he doesn't have a irresistible powers or tools of persuasion he can use to get the votes. Our system is based around Congress even if our storytelling is based around the president.

Now, clearly no one doubts that presidents' powers are constrained. Dick Cheney wanted the powers of an emperor--and even those powers are constrained.  But the president no more than a clerk?  Sure it's nice to quote authoritative texts.  But it's nicer when you don't expose them to ridicule in the process.  Neustadt's original intent may not have been ridiculous, but this use of him renders him so.  

Now, I do concede that Glenn's post might have been simplistic.  A 46-page analysis of the power dynamics at play in the public option struggle would no doubt provide more nuance.  Here's how Bernstein does nuance:

So a clever and hard-working president can get some -- some! -- of the things he wants.  As Matt Yglesias notes, all the pressure in the world on Blanche Lincoln wasn't going to make much of a difference when it came to health care reform.  That's because she wasn't the 60th vote -- in fact, she and Mary Landrieu were probably votes numbers 56 and 57, something like that.  More to the point, on the public option (which is presumably Greenwald's complaint, since as he might recall the actual, landmark health care bill did, as a matter of historic record, actually pass), well, the public option only had somewhere around 51, 52, or 53 votes in the Senate.  Oh, and that's for a very weak public option, something that the actual policy experts believed was largely inconsequential.

But this only shows that Lincoln wasn't the only problem, and we already knew that.  That's just the point: the problem wasn't Lincoln.  It was Obama.  This is Greenwald's nuance: His fundamental point was not about what Obama could achieve.  It was about what he was willing to fight for--and against.  In the linked-to Yglesias post, Matt unconsciously condemns his own  misreading of Jeff's Left Ed diary last Sunday (see my quick hit, "Yglesias vs. Yglesias"), but he also has this to say:

What I wrote, in August of 2009, was that "To get sixty votes you need Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe to back your bill. Neither Nelson nor Snowe is especially liberal, and the President doesn't have a great deal of leverage over either of them."

Let's set Nelson aside for the moment, and look at Snowe.  If it's true that Obama didn't have much leverage over her, then he had no one to blame but himself for that situation. When Snowe and Collins were holding out against the stimulus, Obama could easily have won them over by simply organizing a few town halls in the great state of Maine with teachers, parents, schoolkids, principals, etc., driving home the point that Snowe and Collins were endangering schoolkids everywhere.  Their images as reasonable, moderate centrists could not have survived a sustained onslaught of this sort, and they were probably smart enough to realize it long before it got ugly.  Once such lesson goes a long way with Senators concerned about their images.  Had Obama demonstrated such a well-honed, fine-tuned fighting spirit early on--balanced by graciousness in victory, of course--he would never have gotten himself into such difficulties with healthcare...assuming, of course, that they were difficulties for him, rather than a form of cover.

Similarly, Obama never even seemed to dream of making the filibuster abuse an issue, so that he wouldn't need to win 60 votes just to sneeze.  He could easily have made it a major political rallying point, and beaten up mercilessly on any opposition.  The window for doing that is long gone now, of course.  But in the first few months of his presidency he was ideally situated to fight and win such a major strategic battle. But this was simply not his priority.  Majority rule was not his priority.  Government working for the people was not his priority. And this is what Greenwald's post was ultimately all about: priorities.

Of course no president gets everything they want. There are things beyond their power that prevent that. But what they do get is dependent on two things within their power: Their priorities, and their willingness to fight for those priorities.  And the situation with Blanche Lincoln is deeply illustrative of both, regardless of whether Obama could have prevailed.

The question, ultimately, is not whether Obama could have won.  He himself said many times that change is hard.  We all know that. The question, rather, is whether he would struggle.  And, of course, the ultimate question: Which side is he on?


* Florence Reese wrote "Which Side Are You On" after a terrorist night raid on her home by deputies employed by the mining company.  She wrote the lyrics on the back of a kitchen calendar.

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Which side is Obama on? (4.00 / 2)
Why, the WINNING side--duh! He is ALWAYS on the winning side!

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

These guys are always reading the wrong books (4.00 / 5)
Two points in rebuttal to Yglesias, Klein and all the other other Broders-in-training:

1) Glenn Greenwald understands very well how the American presidency doesn't work. This may less arcane than beltway punditry, but it's arguably of more use -- if, of course, anyone wants to use it.

2) Yes it's true. Every one of the reasons why things are the way they are, and can't be changed is unassailable -- until it's assailed. Matt Iglesias has obviously never read about the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and if he did, he'd probably dismiss it as a parable with no parallel in the real world. Priests at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus were no doubt similarly dismissive in their day.


I rarely disagree with you. (0.00 / 0)
But when you ignore the most cogent words of Glenn's argument, I am flabbergasted. For, if President Obama had threatened Lincoln and Lieberman and all the Blue Dogs that he would withhold support and give advantage to more Progressive primary opponents, he might have made the case for real reform and won it. But power concedes nothing without a demand, and Obama is not too demanding. Nor is he emphatic about real reform in the domestic, economic or international relations arenas.

Blanche Lincoln and her corporatist/centrist Senate-friends aren't some unfortunate outliers in the Democratic Party.  They are the Democratic Party. The outliers are the progressives. The reason the Obama White House did nothing when Lincoln sabotaged the public option isn't because they had no leverage to punish her if she was doing things they disliked. It was because she was doing exactly what the White House and the Party wanted. The same is true when she voted for Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies, serves every corporate interest around, and impedes progressive legislation. Lincoln doesn't prevent the Democratic Party from doing and being what it wishes it could do and be.  She enables the Party to do and be exactly what it is, what it wants to be, what serves its interests most.  That's why they support her so vigorously and ensured her victory:  the Blanche Lincolns of the world are the heart, soul and face of the national Democratic Party.

On the issue that Glenn does address, i.e., why was advocacy for Halter successful, you distract with apologies for the President. Apologists for the President should be careful: the jig is up - you look foolish defending him!

We are not fooled by the smokescreen of a 60-vote majority, nor by a feckless White House that conceals nothing of its Blue Dog centrism in the face of the nation's need for real reforms. The President is simply not authoritatively Progressive enough to solve the problems that exist and will persist. THAT is why the Tea Party is f**king nuts and driven wilder, while Progressives are frustrated and regard Obama's weak tea proposals as insufficient or ineffective, particularly in the HCR debate.

"Not as bad as the other guy" has surely morphed into, "God Save Us from Republicans," but elected Democrats are equally and intentionally without aggressive plans or programs. Statements of intent in legislation for the future offer no substantive change to their corporate relationships and foment little substantive debate. I scarcely recognize Candidate Obama. He overpromised and underdelivered, and any customer would be appalled and disappointed.

A certain amount of midterm political collapse was to be expected, but in MA and in AR one sees the nascent strategic plan to actually cede seats to Republicans in the Senate in order to maintain the status quo for insurance companies, banks and in labor relations.

And why not? Pols easily make more money on K Street where their corporate sponsors will pay them handsomely for such treachery against the interests of the people. It isn't hard to be cynical; it is gar harder to face such a heinous reality and be realistic.

I canvassed and registered nearly 1,000 new Democratic voters in the '07-'08 run-up to the election. I will certainly not be so energetic at this time, and I will donate to Accountability NOW rather than to DNC initiatives which actually work against my interests.

They only call it class war when we fight back.


I'm Afraid You've Got A Bit Of A Reading Problem Here (4.00 / 2)
The first rule of reading is to read what you're reading.  Don't read something that isn't there.

On the issue that Glenn does address, i.e., why was advocacy for Halter successful, you distract with apologies for the President. Apologists for the President should be careful: the jig is up - you look foolish defending him!

Two problems:

(1) There were no apologies for the President.

(2) I was not distracting from the issue of why advocacy for Halter was successful.  I was not discussing that at all.

Although I had originally intended to discuss that, others have already done so, and so I thought it was more important to cover a different facet, and to continue in the vein of explicating how Third Way wonkosphere misconstrues their differences with progressive populists.

BTW, this is also the reason that I " ignore[d] the most cogent words of Glenn's argument".  I was not primarily concerned with his argument in and of itself.  I was concerned with the larger framework of misrepresentation and marginalization with which it was treated by Obama's de facto apologists.

Again, please try reading what is there, first.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Indeed..."Third Way wonkosphere misconstrues... (0.00 / 0)
their differences with progressive populists." DLC'ers are perhaps blinded by allegiance to the President, and centered on apologiae rather than understanding his vast failure as unavoidable partisan Democratic party leader even though he might eschew that title. (If he is so important to defend, imagine how important he really IS!)

And Ezra Klein isn't always right. Bush established precedent for the biggest bailout to an elite class known to man, and I don't think it's true that "there's just not that much he [Obama] could do about it" [enacting a $400 billion dollar bailout for jobs.] If Obama only exposed elitism and corporate whores, he would have been doing what he had promised to do: counter the "special interests." Had this evolved - and in many ways, the hem of this skirt has been lifted - Obama would at least have driven the debate into an area that is most essential to our Democracy as it should be representative of and responsive to the demands of the electorate, not the corporations. His general challenge against Citizens United is revealing for what he did not say.

All I'm saying is that this is not the pertinent issue, and it distracts from the issue of Congressional politics that is of utmost importance in a midterm, non-Presidential election year. It is extra information that does not apply in a discussion of the value of insurgent political campaigns, specifically, primaries, and not general elections. The two are as different as night and day! (i.e., btw, Lincoln is the weaker candidate v. Boozman! Why endorse her at all when she voted against the President AND she is likely to lose? And just two days after her primary, she again voted for the Murkowski amendment that prompted the President to vow to veto the entire bill if it had passed!)

I guess I've read ahead, and I wasn't at all surprised by the "wasted $10 million dollars" comment that emerged from the WH. That is who they are. They gloat, and they hate Progressives because we challenge them to act in citizen interests and against the oligarchy.  

They only call it class war when we fight back.


[ Parent ]
My Point Here Is (4.00 / 1)
not that we're in disagreement.  It's just that I've taken on a specific focus here to flesh out part of an important area of disagreement that I think has been far too blurry for far too long.

It's not necessarily the most important thing in the long run.  But all things need attending to in their time.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Pathetic and insulting (4.00 / 7)
Let us assume, for the moment, that the President is a 98lb weakling, at least regarding domestic policy, unable to affect the trajectory of policy formation, must less its substance.  Let us ignore, as well, the influence the President exercises through the regulatory agencies that significantly determine policy implementation and enforcement (something the Bush gang never forgot). Pathetic and comical, I know, until one realizes these stenographers to power actually believe their drivel.

But as an intellectual exercise, let us proceed and assume that Ezra "I'm on my way" Klein and the others are correct in the portrait they paint of a powerless presidency.

What in the hell does that have to do with controlling the party of which the President is the titular leader? The Arkansas case is about the application of party resources and pressure exerted by the President over those in his party, the investment of party resources, and the application of WH attention and energy to election politics. I mean, even if the President must swallow whatever the minority party in Congress - at least so long as its the GOPers in the minority and a Dem in the White House -  attempts to shove down his throat, are we really to believe the President has no influence over his own statements and actions? Really?

Forget the comical and stick with pathetic. The performances of those to which the diary links are impressive. They develop and present a non-germane argument, based on incorrect facts, and a horribly garbled (mis)reading of recent history and constitutional structure.

But my how good those cocktails and finger food must taste!

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? And cold comfort for change?


Very True (4.00 / 1)
But controlling all the presidents in the Senate is hard work.

Heck, in this case, it's about as hard as it gets, since she's named "President Lincoln"!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Just married the name (0.00 / 0)
She's a Lambert, not a Lincoln.  She married the name and in no way assumed the identity of a Lincoln or an FDR.  President Lambert, maybe.  President Harding or Cleveland or Pierce or Arthur.  

[ Parent ]
The "Divide and Conquer" strategy at Open Left (0.00 / 0)
Yes, not all people agree with Greenwald.  Do I really need to say that?!? But, please, look to the BIG picture!  

Harvard (consisting of the President, Senate, Supreme Court, the Dept of Justice and most of the status quo) is, has, and will organize against us.  Why?  They want our money, our power and our Democracy.  The Supreme Court took democracy when they stopped counting votes and selected G.W. Bush.  Obama has done little for the left and is the record holder on looking backwards to prosecute whistle blowers.  Need I point out that we don't have a public option or single-payer health care?  We have, instead, a huge subsidy to the Insurance Organizations.

With regard to Greenwald, remember that "the best is NOT the enemy of the good".  This carping is only irritating - scratching the itch while ignoring the melanoma.

Harvard (or concentration of wealth into the hands of the annointed ones) is the enemy.  We need to defuse this bomb soon - before it blows up in our faces.  Unless, you wish to be a debt slave.


WTF??? (4.00 / 1)
I repeat the advice I gave to ezdidit above.  First rule of reading comprehension is to read what you're reading.

How Harvard got into the act is anyone's guess.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
3 card monte (4.00 / 3)
Maybe I'm just dense.  Or, maybe I'm missing the point(e)... but, I'm kind of tired of the Sixty Vote Shell Game.  And, I'm kind of tired of how Obama's Deal With The Hospital Lobby is endlessly, conveniently forgotten.  And, if it's not forgotten then excused as Pragmatism!!1!!1!!11.  And, I've learned to distrust those writers who do attempt a balletic glissade in their earnest endeavor to convince me how powerless Obama is.  If Ezra and Matt are determined to prefect these moves, then I wish them the hours necessary in a pair of pointe shoes to effectively execute their point(e).

The concept of a "weak presidency" (4.00 / 10)
Is an insult to the intelligence of the reader, and an affront to the discipline of political science. It is an absurd notion that defies logic and experience.

Presidents have a great deal of what's often called "informal power" - what Teddy Roosevelt called the "bully pulpit". The president sets a national agenda and, by dint of his or her popularity and base, can command significant support from the population and leverage that against the Congress in order to push through desired policy if they so choose.

Bush used those powers for bad purposes, but those powers existed long before 2001.

The formal powers of the president are also significant. The veto power is enormously important, especially in an era where it is virtually impossible to muster the 2/3 votes needed to override. It is a tool Obama does not know how to use, but that does not mean it is insignificant. Obama's powers over the Executive Branch - and therefore over a wide swath of what our government does.

Of course, the issue here is the political power of the president, not merely the legal or Constitutional power. Anyone who claims the president is not THE dominant figure of American politics, far more influential and important than any single member of Congress or Congress as a whole, is demonstrating their lack of understanding of the American political system. For a political scientist to say it is the equivalent of a climatologist denying the truth of global warming.

The rest of Bernstein's post is simply a reassertion of the usual arguments that Obama did the best he could with the votes that were available, that the Democrats he has are the best we can get from these red states, that any push for more progressive solutions would cause his approval ratings to drop.

All of those claims are highly speculative and, in my mind, dubious at best. I see no reason to hold Bernstein or his post up as any sort of authority to undermine an Obama critic, certainly not Greenwald.


Quite True (4.00 / 2)
I started to write something about this, but then decided it would lead too far astray.  I think it's legitimate to point out that the Presidency is inherently weaker than many suppose.  But it's quite misleading to do this in the absence of also noting that the Presidency is informally much stronger--and potentially much stronger still.  (This is my argument in a nutshell about why the presidency is so much more powerful in real life than it is on paper.)

What I wanted to do here, instead, but I fear I wasn't clear enough, was to say, "So what if all that's true? It's irrelevant to what's happening right in front of our eyes."

This was, in short, much like Matt's theoretical arguments about teacher-bashing in my diary yesterday--except that the arguments are both vaguer and part of a much larger narrative mass.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Obama himself sums it up best (4.00 / 2)
"It's Complicated" is one of his favorite quips (yes, I know Stuart did a good one on that). second only to the ubiquitous "let  us be clear' when clarity is about to be masterfully obfuscated, ie, diverted; OK, there's a third, which you quoted "change is hard" as a stand-in for "let's not do much change", which perfectly describes the current financial bill winding its way to it's own ignoble meeting with mediocrity.

When Obama says "it's complicated" we should read "Rahm-Framed". The 'art" of the possible is just  kitch when lack of will and/or imagination masquerade as "reality based politics".

The big disappointment for us all, when it comes to Obama, is that he turned out to be a man of little imagination, handicapped by lack of faith in his own words, or the hidden powers of the presidency. Perhaps boils down to not having the knack for much daring - it takes courage to imagine; even more to follow it up. I agree that it's not the fundamental weakness of the presidency that hobbles Obama's "initiatives" - turning them all into pale versions of the hopes vested in them. it's his own, personal inability to rise above the power structures of the status quo, and 'cut to the chase", so to speak. Which is what the presidency is, in a way, all about. Something, I might add, that Lincoln clearly understood and used, as did Roosvelt, as did Reagan ( whether we like or not his politics).

The sadness of all this is unbearable. Probably because of the pathos of Obama - the great white hope - turning out to be such an able presider over the decline of empire. I keep thinking Claudius. but am probably wrong... there's a better one somewhere there.


[ Parent ]
The power of the present (4.00 / 3)
Can you imagine Bernstein making that argument in 2003?

[ Parent ]
Is Johnathan Bernstein related to the Jared Bernstein... (0.00 / 0)
who put on such a show of disinterest at the AFN (I think) conference last week?


[ Parent ]
I don't know (0.00 / 0)
but Jared Bernstein's legit.  Obviously he's been co-opted, but he knows that and thinks he may have more influence as an insider than an outside critic: far be it from me to judge.  

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 6)
And to use Ezra Klein's example...

If you could convince Barack Obama that the economy desperately needed $400 billion more in immediate stimulus, there's just not that much he could do about it. He doesn't have the votes, and like all presidents before him, he doesn't have a irresistible powers or tools of persuasion he can use to get the votes. Our system is based around Congress even if our storytelling is based around the president.

...that's probably strictly true, but let's imagine that the president didn't need to be convinced that the economy needed another large stimulus, that he already believed this, and had been prepping the country for it from the time the first stimulus passed, that instead of fixating both rhetorically and substantively on the alleged menace of the deficit he had spent the last year plus fighting against lies about the need for fiscal austerity, that each time he bragged about his fiscal discipline he had instead talked about the need to spend and spend big to get the country working again....

Just consider what Bush did with Iraq and WMD. I'll grant that it's often easier to sell the country on conservatism because a president gets help from the media and corporate power (if that's not redundant), but to say that Obama has little power at his disposal to mobilize public opinion to pursue progressive ends is absurd.

Of course, this is all speculative, and it's speculative precisely because he hasn't tried.



[ Parent ]
Some of us are comfortable with the status quo (4.00 / 1)
some of us aren't.

All I know is that the status quo is unsustainable.


"well, the public option only had somewhere around 51, 52, or 53 votes in the Senate." (4.00 / 3)
remember when more than half of a group voting for something constituted a majority?

I mean, I know 2005 was a long time ago...


The public option was an example to illustrate the point, not the point. (4.00 / 3)
I have been looking forward to this post, and it was worth it.

However, I think the example of the public option is overshadowing the central point of the post, which is that Obama, Clinton and the Democrats went to bat for Lincoln, when they didn't have to go bat at all.  The post used the public option as an example, but it isn't about the public option.
The first paragraph is a good indicator of what the post about:

The run-off between Democratic Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger Bill Halter, which culminated on Tuesday night in Lincoln's narrow victory, brightly illuminates what the Democratic Party establishment is.  Lincoln is supposedly one of those "centrist"/conservative/corporatist Senators who thwarts the good-hearted progressive agenda of the President and the Party.

(Emphasis added)

Another important portion:

Blanche Lincoln and her corporatist/centrist Senate-friends aren't some unfortunate outliers in the Democratic Party. They are the Democratic Party. The outliers are the progressives.

If this isn't the case, then it would seem that supporters could easily deny that the establishment of the Democratic Party is actually attempting to appeal to the "pro-business" centrist Democrats, and using Lincoln for this purpose.  They could come right out and say that this administration is attempting to court the left and the union voters (although, I think, that would get laughed at), instead of attempting to shift the focus to the public option.  

That's why they support her so vigorously and ensured her victory: the Blanche Lincolns of the world are the heart, soul and face of the national Democratic Party."

The Democrats are free to deny this.  But instead they will talk the technicalities of the Public Option debate.
They aren't going to argue that they are trying to move the country to the left, or appeal to liberals, progressives or Unions, 'cause they're afraid of the right wing painting them as doing exactly that.  

Obama picked Lincoln and Obama picked Rahm.  
That's the heart, soul and face of it.


This Does Need To Be Seen In Historical Terms (4.00 / 2)
particularly the anti-populist history of the Democratic Party that John Emerson has been writing about (he'll be back with another installment next week).

I think one aspect that's overlooked, or at least under-appreciated, is that finance capital was not nearly as bad a fit with labor in the same party in the 1930s as it is today.  Up until the 60s, at least, finance capital--unlike manufacturing capital--was not directly at odds with labor in head-to-head fashion.  That began to change as corporate financial manipulations became more and more important--with explosion of conglomerates, for example.  By the time of the 1980s, with the frenzy of leveraged buyouts, Wall Street and labor became intensely antogonistic interests at the very time that Democratic lawmakers--lead by Tony Coehlo--became more and more focused on getting funded by Wall Street.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Thanks, Paul (0.00 / 0)
I appreciate getting the historical context, and John Emerson's writings.

As the title suggests, though, they are antagonistic now, and we should get some straight talk about which side the administration is on.  

More than ever, I see him and the Democratic Party as a wishy-washy, triangulation machine. If he is going to triangulate between GW and Clinton, he and his party are moving farther away from getting my support.
 


[ Parent ]
Bernstein is being (4.00 / 7)
incredibly dishonest.  

First, Neustadt is a book about how presidents can exercise power - it is not about the "idea of an 'Impotent, Helpless President.'"  His point is that formal powers are weak, not that presidents are weak.  It's true that he argues that exercising power for a president is difficult, and requires skill, but that is an entirely different point. Greenwald is talking about the informal powers, just like Neustadt.  

Second, Neustadt is a classic in political science - which is another way of saying it is widely mentioned while the ideas in it are roundly ignored. There have been innumerable pieces in political science on the presidency since then. (That stuff doesn't come to conclusions that Bernstein falsely attributes to Neustadt either.) This is an argument from authority, not research or theory, despite what is pretends to be.

Finally, Greenwald isn't, as Bernstein insists, ignorant of the ideological distribution of the Senate. Instead, Greenwald's point is that Obama has helped produce the very distribution his supporters claim constrain him.

What Bernstein, Yglesius and the Tapped poster (along with the rest) are doing is called 'cooling the mark off'. It is a technique of con men.  

One more thing - if presidents are so weak, then shouldn't we radical shift our focus to changing the ideological distribution of the Senate, rather than concerning ourselves with who sits in the White House? How fast will we hear about the bully pulpit if Greenwald makes that argument?

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


The Argument From Authority (4.00 / 1)
is something I had started a paragraph on, but then took out because I didn't think I could support it well enough in the limited time I had to get this finished.  So thanks for bringing it up again.

Your other points are very well taken as well.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Sorry for the troll rating, David (0.00 / 0)
Typos are sort of forgivable. Condemning someone you meant to praise is something else again. Can I plead senility?

[ Parent ]
I once did it the Big Hurt (0.00 / 0)
and never noticed till he pointed out to me weeks later.  No worries.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
I've noticed a certain tendency among some people that I know (4.00 / 1)
to, when attacked, either retreat into a safe but restricting position, deny that they were attacked, or fight back, but very weakly, more symbolically so they can kid themselves that they fought back than actually fighting back, effectively tying their own hands behind their back, the idea being, I'm guessing, that if they don't go all out against their attackers then maybe they won't be TOO mean to them, and leave them be. I wouldn't even necessarily call this cowardice, as it appears to go much deeper than willful behavior, but rather some sort of sad, and clearly debilitating, psychic affliction, the product, I'm guessing, of early life traumas that left them weakened and scarred and terrified of going through yet more trauma, which conflict tends to be (I know for a fact that such things happened with the people that I'm thinking of).

To me, this appears to be Obama's problem (well, one of them, at least). I think that he's less a coward than someone whose entire existance is stuctured around the desire and need and effort to avoid conflict and friction and general messiness, who has created (or adopted and adapted) an entire worldview and MO that enables this. Thus his desire to please or at least find an illusory middle ground between modern conservatism and New Deal liberalism, from his college days (if not earlier) to the present. Thus his embrace of his enemies and adversaries (be they ideological or political) in the name of faux bipartisanship. And, while I know that pop psych is frowned upon in the libertubz, it seems pretty self-evident that this was his reaction to the trauma of being abandoned, first by his father, and then, effectively, by his mother, and growing up neither black nor white in a world that required you to be one or the other.

Here's the thing, though. As Jim Hightower famously said:

"There's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos."

Obama is effectively behaving like a yellow stripe, but is well on his way to being a (politically) dead armadillo. If he isn't one already. In a way I almost don't blame him. He just doesn't seem to be built for the sort of bold, head-on, fierce conflict that we need him to engage in these days. Nor does he appear capable of transforming himself into such. I certainly hope that I'm wrong about the latter. But character tends to remain fixed after one's early adulthood, and we all know about its connection to destiny.

Also, as a general aside, I never could understand people who refuse to fight when fighting's called for, or fight half-assed, with the hopes that their adversaries will be easy on them. Pathetic.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton


re: greenwald (4.00 / 1)
What happened in this race also gives the lie to the insufferable excuse we've been hearing for the last 18 months from countless Obama defenders:  namely, if the Senate doesn't have 60 votes to pass good legislation, it's not Obama's fault because he has no leverage over these conservative Senators.  It was always obvious what an absurd joke that claim was; the very idea of The Impotent, Helpless President, presiding over a vast government and party apparatus, was laughable.  But now, in light of Arkansas, nobody should ever be willing to utter that again with a straight face.  Back when Lincoln was threatening to filibuster health care if it included a public option, the White House could obviously have said to her: if you don't support a public option, not only will we not support your re-election bid, but we'll support a primary challenger against you.  Obama's support for Lincoln did not merely help; it was arguably decisive....

fuckin' A


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